After success as a Falcon, Erin Ashby’s path at Stanford has been more difficult. But she’s finding her way now.
By Brandon HENSLEY
Thunder came in the middle of the night, with rain sprinkled in, which was apparent as Erin Ashby walked across the wet grass to the softball field the next day. As she sat down in the bleachers, the overcast sky mildly threatening again, she surveyed the empty field at Crescenta Valley High School and found this July weather wasn’t the only thing that seemed unusual.
After all, he wasn’t there. The man who led the Lady Falcons to the 1986 CIF championship and 20 Pacific League titles wasn’t on the field giving summer instruction to incoming players, nor was he doing the usual field maintenance.
“If Coach Berry was still here, I’d expect the field to already be dragged, and everything to be clean and ready to go. I think that he’s not here makes it seem like a long time ago,” Ashby said.
She was speaking about Dan Berry, of course, who died in October 2011, two weeks after he suffered multiple seizures at school.
“To get that call, it was hard to hear, because I don’t think anybody expected it,” she said.
Ashby, who graduated in June of that year, last saw Berry at one of her travel ball games before she left for Stanford University. There were plans for the coach to see her games that season, but that never came to be.
The Falcon program had Mark Samford as coach for two seasons, but will enter next year with John Pehar leading the team.
It is, as Ashby put it, “a new era” of Falcon softball. As for her new life as a Stanford Cardinal, though, things seem to be on the right track after a period of self-reflection, if not self-doubt.
As a Falcon for Coach Berry, Ashby was dominant as a pitcher and hitter. She was All-Area player of the year and Pacific League MVP for both the 2010 and 2011 seasons, so it’s perplexing to listen to her speak about herself in less than confident terms.
She played in just 18 games her freshman year for Stanford, making four starts. Her performance was less than stellar, and though she realized there would be an adjustment period, she said handling everything initially was difficult. Am I this bad? she remembered asking herself.
It wasn’t just on the field either. Ashby was questioning her career choices, even into her sophomore year.
“I had so many meltdowns this year because I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life,” she said.
She initially wanted to major in sports medicine, but quickly realized keeping up with those classes and playing softball wouldn’t work.
“I had a lot of breakdowns this year trying to figure out life and I’m in this beautiful place with all these intelligent people, and what am I doing here?” she said. “What impact am I going to have on the world?”
Now, though, things are turning around. Ashby is majoring in communications with a minor in Spanish and human biology, which would help her become an orthodontist, a future job she’s thinking about.
“A lot of people have confidence through their smiles, so if you can help one person feel that much better about themselves, at the end of the day it’s worthwhile,” she said.
Ashby said going into her sophomore year she was determined to start, and that no day would go wasted in her effort to do so. She started 58 games at first base and catcher, and hit .291 with seven doubles, three triples and six home runs. She was fourth on the team with 35 RBIs.
“They threw her to catcher, they threw her to first base, and she was willing to go to each position and be ready and willing to help the team in whichever way possible,” said Sarah Hassman, a fifth year senior last season who was an All-Pac 12 honorable mention.
Ashby hit a home run in her first at-bat of the season against Bradley. That gave her all the confidence she would need.
“Once you realize it’s a game you’ve been playing your whole life, it makes things that much easier,” she said.
It wasn’t all smooth going for her, though. She endured a couple of ankle sprains, including one against Cal State Fullerton rounding third base. She was held up by her coach, but couldn’t make it back to the bag after hurting herself and was tagged out.
That moment actually impressed Hassman.
“She could care less about how much pain she was in. All she cared about was how that killed the rally in that situation,” she said. “All she cared about is how that outcome affected the team.”
Ashby played the rest of the season with nerve damage, and had surgery earlier this summer on her right foot.
“Sports are about playing through pain and doing what you gotta do,” she said.
She’s currently rehabbing the foot and hopes to be fully healthy once she heads back up north in September. Her team is not only losing Hassman, a stalwart in the outfield, but also pitcher Teagan Gerhart, another All-Pac 12 honorable mention who finished her career with 101 wins and a 2.24 ERA.
The Cardinal were able to get incoming freshman pitcher Carley Hoover, who played high school ball in South Carolina. Hoover was Gatorade’s national player of the year for the 2013 season.
Whatever happens next for Ashby and her team remains to be seen. On that unusually overcast July day at CV, looking out onto the field where she had so much success, she said it reminded her of where she started and where she needed to be.
Where she is now seems to be just fine, amongst a slew of other young people taking the same winding paths as she.
“It’s just really cool being at Stanford knowing that everyone has a different story and has things that they’ve accomplished,” she said. “Finding out who they are and where they’re from, how they got to where they are, is really exciting.”